Much is being made of a new Angus Reid poll on the attitudes of Canadians towards minorities, coming out as it does on the heels of Kellie Leitch’s plan to test immigrants on “anti-Canadian” values. Polling people’s attitudes on diversity is always a good thing as the mood does change from time to time, depending on the issues that face us.
While Angus Reid is a hugely credible polling organization, this poll is somewhere between incomplete and not very informative.
There were two sets of questions on diversity in the poll. Interestingly, the first did not receive coverage—not even in Reid’s own article on the CBC News website—while the second, the more sensational one, garnered all the coverage. Surprising!
Respondents were asked to first comment on: “How well immigrants are integrating into society.” A full 67 per cent said they were satisfied and 33 per cent said they were dissatisfied. (The report does not reveal how many had no opinion, which seems odd. Not even one per cent? But I digress.)
Sadly, the questions that received all the coverage, perhaps because they align more with Leitch’s narrative in some way, are actually simplistic in the extreme. And further, while the questions did not use the word “multiculturalism,” Reid’s reporting did.
Here are the statements that respondents were asked to comment on: should minorities do more to fit in with mainstream society; and should we do more to encourage cultural diversity with different groups keeping their own customs and languages.
Trouble is, that is not the conundrum that defines multiculturalism. It is perhaps the conundrum that defines segregation. Should minorities fit in or live segregated lives? One or the other. Binary. No combination, no nuance.
Multiculturalism, from its very inception as a government policy in 1971 by one Pierre Trudeau, has been about both integration and cultural retention. Check the Hansard on that. Canadian individuals, immigrants and Canadian born, can generally walk and chew gum at the same time, and they do it all the time.
Interestingly, the poll came out on October 3, during Rosh Hashanah. And you have to think of all the Canadian Jews who were marking the high holiday. Most are able to get time off work and were celebrating the new year with family and friends. Jews are among the most integrated of minority groups in Canada and they contribute in significant ways in virtually every facet of Canadian society, and yet Rosh Hashanah, is widely celebrated.
So which of Angus Reid’s two statements do they fall under: fitting in or keeping their own customs? Or did they walk and chew gum?
One is tempted, on this basis, to dismiss the poll as incomplete or sloppy. But let’s look at a few other examples and try to guess what it is pointing to.
As Reid points out, attitudes change. In the 1990s, wearing a turban in the Armed Forces was a hugely controversial issue, which the Mulroney government settled at great political cost. It is part of what gave rise to the Reform Party. And, of course, today the Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan wears a turban, and, given his mastery of his role in the Canadian Forces, his competence shone through.
Several Jewish MPs celebrated last week.
Several Muslim MPs, like Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, celebrated Eid last month while being a federal minister as did several MPs, including Conservative Ziad Aboultaif and Liberal Ahmed Hussen. Walk and chew gum.
As the world watches the horrors of Hurricane Matthew bearing down on Haiti, former Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s former governor general and now head of La Francophonie, was helping to find aid for the victims of yet another catastrophe to hit her country of origin.
To turn back to Leitch’s issue of anti-Canadian values, one is tempted to ask, are these the anti-Canadian values we should be concerned about?
If there is a conundrum with multiculturalism, it is about the limits of cultural retention and how far we go in reasonable accommodation—a debate that rages on in Quebec. It’s a good discussion to have, but in a free and democratic society, there will rarely be unanimity about where that line exists. It’s about how we make walking and chewing gum at the same time possible. Multiculturalism works when we do both things.
When a practice restricts people’s integration that is a point of discussion like wearing a niqab. But is the solution to legislate what a woman should wear, or is it to find ways in which she will feel comfortable removing it? Or may be the rest of us just get over it?
Leitch gets some support because there is a view that immigrants bring over anti-Canadian values. Whether it was the Irish Fenian who assassinated Thomas D’Arcy McGee in 1868, or the people responsible for the Air India bombing in 1985 or the shooter who killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo in 2014, (Cirillo’s assassin was Canadian born) these people had values that were not in keeping with Canadian values of equality and justice.
It would be helpful if Leitch could be more specific. Yes, we want to root out undesirable elements and want to be clear about basic Canadian values such as gender equality and respect for diversity. At the same time we need to do all we can so we don’t import terrorism or violence.
Likewise, Angus Reid might be more specific with his questions rather than erect headline-catching false conundrum.
Perhaps the newsworthy story is that Canadians believe immigrants should integrate, that’s two to one, and that they generally like the way they are integrating, that’s two to one.
Yet in liberal discourse, any resistance to immigration on any grounds makes you a racist, and any questions about immigration policy are perceived as illegitimate. People get frustrated by that. They’re also frustrated by a narrative that, in their view, only goes one way. They feel they’re constantly being harangued by their betters that it is they who must accommodate the newcomers. No one ever talks about what the newcomers should do to accommodate them.
And so they’re not thrilled when Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s Premier, dons a head scarf to meet with the woman who insisted on her right to wear the niqab during the citizenship ceremony – and then tweets that it’s “an honour.” They are not thrilled when their Prime Minister promotes inclusivity by visiting a mosque where the women have to sit upstairs. They don’t like it when a Muslim boys’ soccer team refuses to play against girls.
Kellie Leitch taps into that sentiment. I don’t doubt for a moment that Canada has its share of racists – but if the Liberals ignore the genuine concerns of people who think accommodation should go both ways, they’re asking for a backlash.
Many progressives (including, I suspect, Mr. Trudeau) hold a romantic view of immigration as a sort of global social-justice project, which obliges us to share our good fortune with as much of the rest of the world as possible, while declaring that every other culture is just as good as ours is.
Thankfully, most Canadians don’t share this woozy notion. They pride themselves on their tolerance. But they’re also hard-headed pragmatists. They think immigration policy should serve our national interests, and that our leaders should not forget it.